This is my contribution to the 2013 Virtual Advent Tour. This blog tour was created by Kelly and Marg over at Virtual Advent to allow us to share a favorite Christmas or holiday memory.
In western Christian tradition, the real-life Advent is all about anticipation, not recollection. But what would the winter holidays be without pulling up a chair to tell some stories and remember those who are no longer with us?
So here goes:
I grew up in a small, rural village in the west of Ireland. On Christmas Eve, you could count on two things. First, every Christmas Eve morning, my late father, who worked double-time as a lorry driver and a farmer, promised my mother that, this year, he’d clock out early and be home by lunchtime.
He never was. In those days (late 1970s), many mothers still didn’t drive, and we lived out in the country, so Dad’s late-afternoon homecoming always pushed our last-minute errands right up to and often beyond deadline.
It was a chaotic deadline, but somehow, it all got done, and, next day, we all got to sit around a pungent and overflowing dinner table. Second, once he did arrive home, it was always Dad’s job to tackle the Christmas tree lights. Now, over four decades later, I can still see him standing there in the middle of our front parlor, still in his lorry-driver’s uniform, twiddling, testing and then, when he found that one, recalcitrant bulb, dead-heading it until the rest of the strand worked.
Our house sat directly across the street from the village church, so before our fellow parishioners (of course, their trees had long been plugged in, lit up and perfect. Well lah-dee-dah!) arrived for Christmas Eve Mass, we needed to have a festive tree set in the parlor front window. Otherwise, we’d just look like slackers.
Most years, the Grand Light Showdown involved a few twiddles and curses and bulb replacements. But one year, despite an entire evening’s standoff and a series of grunted instructions to my sister and me (Here, hold this. No, plug that out. Try the other wall plug), those miniature lights just refused to … well, light.
My father was the uber Christmas procrastinator. We all were. I still am. But even at 8:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve, Dad wasn’t a man to be beaten. He was a man of bright ideas and last-minute fixes–however unorthodox they might be.
Just as the pre-service lights came on in the church across the street, he stomped out of the parlor and through the house and across the farmyard where he revved up the car to drive three miles to the next village and its tiny, family-run shop that was sure to be open late.
When Dad got there (he later told us), the only light was in the adjoining house, where, presumably, the family had gathered around the living room hearth for a cocoa-and-cake, drama-free Christmas Eve. Yeah, weird, huh?
Dad clanked on the shop door handle. Yep, locked.
Then, he found a gap in the pasted advertisements and faux-snow swirls to peer through the shop window, hoping that someone was still there doing last-minute clean-up.
He crossed to the family’s house where he rang on the front door.
“Just a set of lights,” he told the shop owner, who stood there in his slippers. “You don’t even have to open up the shop or the cash register. Just give me the lights, and I’ll come and pay after Christmas.” (Of course, we knew this local family, and they knew us).
“Sold out,” said the shop owner. “Sold the last set of lights yesterday.”
What transpired next I have never known, but somehow Dad persuaded or bribed the man to open up the shop and unhook the string of lights from the shop’s own display window. Were they given as a neighborly gift? Or was this an overpriced, supply-and-demand kind of transaction like scalped concert or sports tickets? I would bet the former.
In any case, Dad arrived home with a set of slightly used, commercial grade Christmas lights. He plugged them in and strung them around our tree.
That Christmas, we had the brightest blinking wattage in our village.
Who are you remembering or missing this Christmas? Feel free to share your memories below.
Meanwhile, jog your memory and storytelling acumen with this “12 Days of Christmas” video from Frank Kelly, one of Ireland’s best actors and humorists (he played Father Jack in Ballykissangel). I dare you not to laugh.